Gin and Tonic

Copyright (c) 2003 J.D. Chapman All Rights Reserved

The evening feels a bit balmy, but not exceptionally humid. You can still sense dampness in the air like the shirt you exercised in a couple of days ago. It might though be sea mist. Sea mist thrice removed — evaporated, dewed on the brasswork after the setting sun, then condensed on your iced glass, and then evaporated again. It is just barely cool — in your golf shirt a breeze would bring you goosebumps, but the calm is still and breathless, three degrees away from an instant fog. The air moves just a little, but you wish it would provide just a smidgen more relief. You take another sip of your gin and tonic and stare beyond the patio lights to the half dozen stars flickering through the gauzy backlighting. A chunk of rusting moon limns high clouds and then breaks free, a friend to remind you of your smallness, of the smallness of people in nature, of your home where it is the same moon, even in a different country.

Tropical music plays at middle volume, more than background, but not loud enough to interfere with talking, and not loud enough to completely mask the conversations of the folks at the next table. Vaguely like calypso but without steel drums — just music, no vocals — it has the feel and rhythm of a provincial Caribbean downbeat. The music makes you think of Jamaica, although this is Mexico; the music makes you think of having a beer in a hammock lazily in the sunshine — it is early afternoon music playing a few hours out of time. If you listen carefully you can hear a tink-tink sound, tink-tink, at regular intervals, tink-tink. Then you realize that it is the sound of a lone cricket, not particularly nearby, but essentially keeping time with the music. You smile to yourself as you lose touch with the surroundings while focusing instead on the gradual syncopation between the music and the cricket. Then some rattling ice in clinking glasses and louder conversation at a nearby table breaks your concentration and you are again aware of the peculiar weather and its delicate vanity.

A sweet smell lolling in the air makes you almost hungry… maybe a distant barbecue. No, you know what it is: the smell of a flower blooming, a bit past its prime, mixed with the scent from the restaurant grill. As you search over your shoulder in vain for an outdoor grill the aroma shifts within your awareness: maybe it is coconut-oil suntan lotion, perhaps from the gal at the next table. No, most probably a tropical flower of some sort trying to attract the nighttime moths who sparkle like fireflies around the patio lights. But you can’t see any flowers as the hazy dusk perceptibly grays the earthtone colors of the landscaping. The more you concentrate on the scent the less appealing it becomes, migrating toward cloying, and then you wish you hadn’t noticed it at all; to distract yourself you stand and stretch, but then as your movement attracts the eyes of the patrons at several tables you sit down quietly again. Then the music reaches a break between songs; the cricket chirps on for a few more bars and then pauses, almost as if he has lost something, but then he starts up again and shortly thereafter another song chimes on a marimba.

A waiter sporting a worn Hawaiian button-down shirt, levis, and open-toe sandals approaches: “are you ready to order sir?” he inquires, in near-perfect diction, with just the slightest coloring of Spanish rolling “r” maybe on purpose to venerate a Caribbean mood. He is friendly and languid at the same time, relaxed as if he only gets six or seven customers a night and probably spends most of his evening chatting with the chef and maitre d’ about their fresh exploits with the cache of women touristas. He is practiced at being invisible and inquires if you are ready just out of courtesy. If you are not ready he will go back and chat some more with his friends and perhaps come back to your table in ten minutes (and perhaps not until you clear your throat loudly to catch his eye). But you are hungry only for flavor more than eating and already have decided on the scampi — how can scampi be less than perfect in Mexico? He nods, “good choice sir,” of course he says that out of habit to every order, and then “refresh your drink sir?” tipping his pen in the direction of your glass. You think for just a half second, but since this is Mexico and you are on vacation you smile and nod “yes please, another gin and tonic.”

Three or four couples chat quietly at other tables; your wife went out with “the girls” from the tour tonight, so you are not lonely, not searching, but comfortable and still attached to her in spirit. You smile to yourself when you think about her thinking about you. It is a warm pleasant feeling and the fondness itself will soon evaporate the dew from your empty glass. Being in love with your wife is better than having your toes buried in the warm sand, sipping your beer, and soaking up the rays, as you did with her this afternoon. The thoughts of her and the tittering background conversation and deepening evening make an odd mixture of warmth and coolness — a creamy caramel-coated sweetness of love and dampness, almost phony. Except, sí, this is Mexico and this is a place for tourists (too expensive for locals) so perhaps it is by some strange coincidence of fate that you find yourself accepting all at the same time everything beautiful, absurd, and natural. You expect the pebbling as a spontaneous by-product. The life of the music syncopates to itself which syncopates to actual life, your actual life different than the life that you dream that you live; the resort is a reflection of the resort it purports to be and yet is not part of this country either. You feel shifted out of time, shifted out of your body, and then realize that the resort and work that is here perpetually shifts people — this explains much of their curious demeanor: detached from the modern world and indifferent to it as well.

As you stare into the mottled evening you notice the yellowish haze globes around the lights slowly growing. You sense that the temperature now is diminishing ever so slightly — as it lowers to perhaps one degree above the dew point it stresses the air: the spray from the ocean adds as many molecules of water to the air per minute as the leaves can possibly simultaneously condense out; your arms begin to goosebump. You look down and notice that your gin is now full; the waiter exchanged your glass silently while you drifted off in your contemplations. You sigh, pick up your new glass, and take a long draw. Something else though seems askew besides just this tourist place out of time and out of touch with the neighborhood. The neighborhood itself is out of alignment, the politics of the country is all wrong, the people in power are misusing the poor, and something is just plain wrong with the world. It’s hard to put a definite concrete finger on it — maybe it’s governments and corporations, matriarchies and patriarchies; perhaps it’s media and marketers, or it’s magicians, witches, and sorcerers. You sigh, because there is probably nothing that you can do about it anyway, and before standing to voyage indoors toward the men’s room you take another long draw of gin and tonic.

As you enter the interior of the restaurant you catch the eyes of a fellow diner — a gentleman you had met at the pool yesterday. He is dining alone and rises to extend his hand. You smile, shake his hand, and he pulls you down to a chair at his table. Well, perhaps the bathroom can wait a minute or two. You notice a few more diners at indoor tables, chat politely for a few moments, then shrug, point your eyes toward the bathroom, and rise to excuse yourself. Then a flash — you duck and cover — your brain races with a thousand thoughts. Can you move fast enough, contract your muscles fast enough, to survive this blast? It’s amazing how the body can take care of itself automatically. It’s amazing how the body and brain can be separate: the brain doing one thing, the body following its own agenda, off on its own tangent. You wonder if you will live or die. A prayer: Lord please let me survive this blast and prevent me from getting seriously injured. How can you fall faster — is there anything that you can do to drop more quickly to the ground? Should you lift up your legs? Should you tuck into a ball?

You wonder if the glass in this cheesy resort is tempered: will it implode to harmless peas or will you have your neck sliced to ribbons by flying shards of razored glass? Where is your wife right now? This must just be an isolated thing — your wife must be okay and probably will be surprised or worried to hear about this whole sordid affair. Who else was sitting here around us? What were they doing? What are they doing right now? What about all the expensive food that was on its way out from the kitchen or sitting on the tables? Won’t the food get all over the place? Why should the food make any difference at a time like this? Doesn’t our life revolve around food? Isn’t it ironic that we would die with our food?

What colors and shapes did you see in the blast? You should try to remember as much as possible, to help the Mexican police when they investigate. Will the Mexican police investigate? Maybe the Mexican police are at fault? Surely so for letting such a thing happen in the first place. You should squeeze your eyes shut as tightly as possible… you should cover your head with your arms. Damn the people who did this. Damn damn damn! How will you avoid the flying plates, glasses, and silverware that were on the tables? Why do you feel cold? What if you pee in your pants? How will you know if you are still alive? Lord please forgive the people who did this and enlighten them to the pain and suffering that they are causing and the error in their ways. How do you compress yourself to the floor to avoid the most damage and flying debris? Your clothes will be a dirty mess. The air has an acrid scent — the smell of things badly burnt — you should hold your breath. Where is your body? How will you know when you have hit the floor?

You shift to an outside view: you watch from an elevation above the restaurant; are you seeing this or just imagining it? In slow motion you watch a car explode: pieces of metal blown in all directions, up, out, people on the sidewalk ducking, folks screaming. Glass everywhere in all directions shattering. Colors of yellow and red and white and silver — the blast exposes a bizarre and sublime redecoration; pieces of materials dance juxtaposed upon one another in new ways, dust and blood and metal and glass and stucco and wood. It is both artistic and grotesque, planned and random, the same and new — so dynamic that one instant is completely different from the next and the intense rate of change itself defines the instant more than its effects.

You are on the floor shivering. You hear a smashing, a crashing, the sound of a thousand tons of glass breaking on the floor and incinerating. You think that you are still alive; you think that you have made it. The sound of the shattering glass just seems to go on and on and on and on, lasting forever. How can there be that much glass around? Windows, car glass, plates, drinking glasses? You cough and gasp in a choking breath and feel like you need to vomit. Maybe you shouldn’t have had that extra drink earlier. Or perhaps that extra drink actually saved your life by relaxing you and allowing you to be more flexible. You squeeze your stomach muscles tight while the sound of the falling glass stops, not suddenly but not gradually, in-between, with a tinkling crescendo and a half-second sparkle. It is quiet — absolutely quiet. Have you gone deaf? Did the blast break your eardrums, deafen you permanently? Was that the last sound you will ever hear?

You hear the sound of a lady screaming — not nearby though, probably across the street. Maybe it is just the ringing in your ears. Have you gone deaf? You are too scared to move in case there is another explosion, in case somebody is standing by to finish off the job. You are too scared to open your eyes. It is completely quiet. Outside, a cricket starts chirping.


Categories: Surprise

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